Experimental, Qualitative, and Action Research
The Uniqueness of Experimental Research
Experimental research is unique in that it is the only type of research that directly attempts to influence a particular variable, and it is the only type that, when used properly, can really test hypotheses about cause and effect relationships. Experimental designs are some of the strongest available for educational researchers to use in determining cause and effect.
Essential Characteristics of Experimental Research
Experiments differ from other types of research in two basic ways-comparisons of treatments and the direct manipulation of one or more independent variables by the researcher.
Random assignment is an important ingredient in the best kinds of experiments. It means that every individual who is participating in the experiment has an equal chance of being assigned to any of the experimental or control conditions that are being compared.
Control of Extraneous Variables
The researcher in an experimental study has an opportunity to exercise far more control than in most other forms of research.
Some of the most common ways to control for the possibility of differential subject characteristics (in the various groups being compared) are randomization, holding certain variables constant, building the variable into the design, matching, using subjects as their own controls, and using analysis of the covariance.
Weak Experimental Designs
Three weak designs that are occasionally used in experimental research are the one shot case study design, the one group pretest-posttest design, and the static group comparison design. They are considered weak because they do not have built in controls for threats to internal validity.
In a one shot case study, a single group is exposed to a treatment or event, and its effects are assessed.
In the one group pretest posttest design, a single group is measured or observed both before and after exposure to a treatment.
In the static group comparison design, two intact groups receive different treatments.
True Experimental Designs
The essential ingredient of a true experiment is random assignment of subjects to treatment groups.
The randomized posttest only control group design involves two groups formed by random assignment.
As before, the symbol X represents exposure to the treatment and O refers to the measurement of the dependent variable. R represents the random assignment of individuals to groups. C now represents the control group.
The randomized pretest-posttest control group design differs from the randomized posttest only control group only in the use of a pretest.
The randomized Solomon four group design involves random assignment of subjects to four groups, with two being pretested and two not.
To increase the likelihood that groups of subjects will be equivalent, pairs of subjects may be matched on certain variables. The members of the matched groups are then assigned to the experimental and control groups.
Matching may be either mechanical or statistical.
Mechanical matching is a process of pairing two persons whose scores on a particular variable are similar.
Two difficulties with mechanical matching are that it is very difficult to match on more than two or three variables, and that in order to match, some subjects must be eliminated from the study when no matches can be found.
Statistical matching does not necessitate a loss of subjects.
The matching only design differs from random assignment with matching only in that random assignment is not used.
In a counterbalanced design, all groups are exposed to all treatments, but in a different order.
A time series design involves repeated measurements or observations over time, both before and after treatment.
Factorial designs extend the number of relationships that may be examined in an experimental study.
The Nature of Qualitative Research
The term of qualitative research refers to studies that investigate the quality of relationships, activities, situations or materials.
The natural setting is a direct source of data, and the researcher is a key part of the instrumentation process in qualitative research.
Qualitative data are collected mainly in the form of words and pictures and seldom involve numbers. Content analysis is a primary method of data analysis.
Qualitative researchers are especially interested in how things occur and particularly in the perspectives of the subjects of a study.
Qualitative researchers do not, usually, formulate a hypothesis beforehand and then seek to test it. Rather, they allow hypotheses to emerge as a study develops.
Qualitative and quantitative researches differ in the philosophic assumptions that underlie the two approaches.
Major Characteristics of Qualitative Research:
|1||Naturalistic inquiry||Studying real world situations as they unfold naturally; non manipulative, unobtrusive, and non-controlling.|
|2||Inductive analysis||Immersion in the details and specifics of the data to discover important categories, dimensions and interrelationships.|
|3||Holistic perspective||The whole phenomenon under study is understood as a complex system that is more than the sum of its parts.|
|4||Qualitative data||Detailed, thick description; direct quotations capturing people’s personal perspectives and experiences.|
|5||Personal contact and insight||The researcher has direct contact with and gets close to the people, situation and phenomenon under the study.|
|6||Dynamic systems||Attention to process.|
|7||Unique case orientation||Assumes each case is special and unique.|
|8||Context sensitivity||Places findings in a social, historical, and temporal context.|
|9||Emphatic neutrality||Complete objectivity is impossible.|
|10||Design flexibility||Open to adapting inquiry as understanding deepens and/or situations change.|
Steps Involved In Qualitative Research
The steps involved in conducting a qualitative study are not as distinct as they are in quantitative studies. They often overlap and sometimes are even conducted concurrently.
All qualitative studies begin with a foreshadowed problem; the particular phenomenon the researcher is interested in investigating.
Researchers who engage in a qualitative study of some type usually select a purposive sample. Several types of purposive samples exist.
There is no treatment in a qualitative study, nor is there any manipulation of variables.
The collection of data in a qualitative study is ongoing.
Conclusions are drawn continuously throughout the course of a qualitative study.
Different philosophical assumptions of quantitative and qualitative researchers:
Assumptions of quantitative researchers
Assumptions of qualitative researchers
|There exists a reality “out there,” independent of us, waiting to be known. The task of science is to discover the nature of reality and how it works||The individuals involved in the research situation construct reality; thus, realities exist in the form of multiple mental constructions.|
|Research investigations can potentially result in accurate statements about the way the world really is.||Research investigations produce alternative visions of what the world is like.|
|It is possible for the researcher to remove himself or herself-to stand apart-from that which is being researched||It is impossible for the researcher to stand apart from the individuals he or she is studying|
|Facts stand independent of the knower and can be known in an undistorted way.||Fact and value are inextricably intertwined.|
|The proper design of research investigations will lead to accurate conclusions about the nature of the world.||The initial ambiguity that occurs in a study is desirable.|
|The purpose of educational research is to explain and be able to predict relationships.||The purpose of educational research is an understanding of what things mean to others.|
Approaches to Qualitative Research
A biographical study tells the story of the special events in the life of a single individual.
A researcher studies an individual’s reactions to a particular phenomenon in a phenomenological study. He or she attempts to identify the commonalities among different individual perceptions.
In a grounded theory study, a researcher forms a theory inductively from the data collected as a part of the study.
A case study is a detailed study of one or (at most) a few individuals or other social units, such as a classroom, a school, or a neighborhood. It can also be a study of an event, an activity, or an ongoing process.
Generalization in Qualitative Research
Generalization is possible in qualitative research, but it is of a type different from that found in quantitative studies. Most likely it will be done by interested practitioners.
Ethics and Qualitative Research
The identities of all participants in a qualitative study should be protected, and they should be treated with respect.
Reconsidering Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Aspects of both qualitative and quantitative research often are used together in a study. Increased attention is being given to such mixed-methods studies.
Whether qualitative or quantitative research is the most appropriate boils down to what the researcher wants to find out.
The Nature of Action Research
Action research is conducted by a teacher, administrator, or other education professional to solve a problem at the local level.
Each of the specific methods of research can be used in action research studies, although on a smaller scale.
A given research question may often be investigated by any one of several methods.
Some methods are more appropriate to a particular research question and /or setting than other methods.
Assumptions Underlying Action Research
Several assumptions underlie action research studies. These are that the participants have the authority to make decisions, want to improve their practice, are committed to continual professional development, and will engage in systematic inquiry.
Types of Action Research
Practical action research addresses a specific local problem.
Participatory action research, while also focused on addressing a specific local problem, attempts to empower participants or bring about social change.
Level of Participation in Action Research
Participation can range from giving information to increasingly greater involvement in the various aspects of the study.
Steps in Action Research
There are four steps in action research: identifying the research question or problem, gathering the necessary data, analyzing and interpreting the data and sharing the results with the participants, and developing an action plan.
In participatory research, every effort is made to involve all those who have a vested interest in the outcomes of the study-the stakeholders.
Similarities and differences between action research and formal quantitative and qualitative research:
|Systematic inquiry||Systematic inquiry|
|Goal is to solve problem of local concern.||Goal is to develop and test theories and to produce knowledge generalizable to wide population|
|Little formal training required to conduct such studies.||Considerable training required to conduct such studies|
|Intent is to identify and correct problems of local concern||Intent is to investigate larger issues|
|Carried out by teacher or other local education professional||Carried out by researcher who is not usually involved in local situation.|
|Uses primarily teacher-developed instruments.||Uses primarily professionally developed instruments|
|Less rigorous.||More rigorous.|
|Purposive samples selected||Frequently value-neutral.|
|Selective opinions of researcher often considered as data.||Random samples (if possible) preferred.|
|Generalizability is very limited||Selective opinions of researcher never considered as data.|
|Generalizability often appropriate.|
Advantages of Action Research
There are at least five advantages to action research. It can be done by just about anyone, in any type of school or other institution, to investigate just about any kind of problem or issue. It can help to improve educational practice. It can help education and other professionals to improve their craft. It can help them learn to identify problems systematically; and it can build up a small community of research oriented individuals at the local level.
Action research has both similarities to and differences from formal quantitative and qualitative research.
Sampling in Action Research
Action researchers are most likely to choose a purposive sample.
Threats to the Internal Validity of Action Research
Action research studies suffer especially from the possibility of data collector bias, implementation, and attitudinal threats. Most others can be controlled to a considerable degree.
External Validity and Action Research
Action research studies are weak in external validity. Replication is, therefore, essential in these studies.
Fraenkel, Jack R. and Normal E. Wallen. 2010. How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education. Singapore: Mc Graw-Hill